Sri Lanka has been on my travel radar for as long as I can remember. I have created this Sri Lanka three weeks itinerary to show you that this island has so much to offer that you can easily spend 3 weeks there and still be hungry to see more. We have visited in February and decided to go mostly to the central and southern part of the island that was not affected by the monsoon.
Below I have broken down which locations we visited day-by-day during our 3 weeks in Sri Lanka with suggestions on what to do, where to stay and more. This Sri Lanka itinerary 3 weeks is based on my own experience.
Are 3 weeks in Sri Lanka enough?
At first, we planned to stay in Sri Lanka for three weeks and if that’s your plan too, you can find a detailed 2 weeks itinerary here. However, on the spot, we realized that we don’t want to hurry and we would love to travel at a slower pace and decided to stay one week longer. While during our 3 weeks long trip we were not able to see the whole island, it’s still a good amount of time to see all the highlights the island has to offer as well as spend some time relaxing on the beach. I have included below a map with the exact route we did.
How to travel around Sri Lanka?
Traveling around Sri Lanka is fairly easy using public transportation but it takes a lot of time. Usually, to get from one town to the other you need to calculate at least 4 hours by bus in comparison to 2 hours by car. Intercity buses and trains are extremely cheap, for example, Rs 220 which is less than $3 for the 3-4h bus journey from Negombo to Kandy.
I also highly recommend an app called PickMe. It’s like a cheaper version of uber where you can also rent a tuk-tuk. Not all cities allow it though. Ella was very monopolized by car rentals and PickMe is completely banned there.
Day 1-3 Dambulla-Sigiriya-Polonnaruwa
Our airplane has landed at 5 am and even though we were quite tired we decided to go straight to Sigiriya. Our plan was simple, get to Sigiriya, check-in to the hotel, relax a bit to gain energy and climb Pidurangala rock at sunset.
Sigiriya, in my opinion, is one of the top places that you need to visit during your Sri Lanka 3 weeks itinerary. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress famous for its palace ruins on top of a massive 200-meter high rock surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures. The rock itself is a lava plug left over from an ancient long extinct volcano. And it’s also a UNESCO site!
In Sigirya you can climb Sigiriya Rock or Pidurangala rock which offers a view of Sigiriya rock. We decided for Pidurangala rock at sunset as we wanted to capture that perfect view of Lion’s Rock. Plus it’s also way cheaper ($5 compared to $30 for Sigiriya Rock).
The hike takes about 45 minutes and it‘s fairly easy, only the last 10 minutes are off-path stone jumping moments. But in complete honesty, I did the whole hike in a dress and snickers so it was not hard.
Where to stay in Sigiriya?
We stayed in the Sigiriya Hotel and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It has a beautiful view of Lion Rock from the pool which is the main highlight in this area. Wild monkeys were jumping around the hotel but unlike aggressive monkeys in Bali, they seemed quite friendly.
As we ask in the hotel about climbing Pidurangala rock, they arranged a bicycle tour with a guide for us. We were nicely surprised as the guide accompany us to the top and helped us take some shots of us.
One of the highlights of staying in Sigiriya hotel was the evening barbeque and dinner on a treehouse. They have a romantic set up so if you want to surprise your significant other during the trip, arrange the dinner there.
About one hour from Sigiriya you will find the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, also a UNESCO site. Polonnaruwa is the second-largest city in North Central Province, but it is known as one of the cleanest and more beautiful cities in the country. The green environment, amazing ancient constructions makes it a perfect one day trip to ride a bike or wander around the ruins. You will need at least 3-5 hours to visit everything.
Dambulla is a bigger and noisier city than Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa so I wouldn’t recommend staying there for a longer time. I preferred staying in Sigiriya and traveling to Dambulla just to see the Cave Temple.
Dambulla cave temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is a World Heritage Site. To get inside you need to climb 364 steps so get comfy shoes! If you plan on visiting the temple then you should dress modestly. You should cover your shoulders and knees. Don’t worry, in case you forgot – you can get a pareo at the entrance.
There are five caves cut in 160 m tall rock, each with a beautiful painting and buddha statues, which were pilgrim’s destination for centuries. Each cave has distinct paintings and is very unique.
Day 4-5 Kandy & Ambuluwawa tower
Ready to see some city life? Kandy is the second biggest city in the country and I think it’s the most liveable one. We planned to stay in Kandy for one night but we ended up prolonging our stay one more night to see Ambuluwawa tower.
I loved Kandy, the city is made to walk around with parks and a big lake in the middle of the city. It’s also not so touristy like Ella which makes prices relatively lower.
The first day we walked around the city, we visited Bahirawakanda Buddha Statue – the giant buddha statue rising from the hill seated in Nirvana pose that can be seen from any part of the city. From there you can also see the view of the city.
We strolled around the lake and in the afternoon we headed straight to the Temple of Sacred Tooth, the most revered site in Sri Lanka. According to the legend, the temple preserves a sacred relict of Budda’s tooth and whoever was in the possession of it had a political as well as religious domination.
A visit to the Temple of the Sacred Relic Temple is a must when you are in Kandy. While the tooth stays hidden within a gold casket, you will get an insight view of Pooja, a small ceremony of reverence involving drummers and dancers inside the shrine.
Tip: Visit Temple of Sacred Tooth during Pooja ceremony: every day at 5.30 AM, 9.30 AM and 6.30 PM
The next morning we headed straight to Ambuluwawa tower attracted by its peculiar look ☺
Ambuluwawa is not only the crazy tower but also a multireligious center – where next to each other you can find temples for all 4 major religions. The climb up the tower is quite scary and challenging but if you visit on a sunny day you’ll be able to see the breathtaking view of Hanthana Mountain Range, Hunnasgiriya and the mountains in the Nuwara Eliya district.
Where to stay in Kandy?
As we liked Kandy so much that we decided to prolong our stay, thus we had 2 different accommodation. The first night we stayed in the beautiful Theva Residency, a luxury boutique hotel located on top of the hill. I loved the infinity pool and the view of a mountain range, especially during sunset time.
The view from our room was the best of our 3 week Sri Lanka trip. The room was huge and comfortable. There was also a bathtub with jacuzzi in our room which made it a very relaxing stay.
We wanted to stay there for 2 nights but unfortunately, there was no room available. So we found an Airbnb in the city for as little as $8. Needless to say, we didn’t have many expectations for this price. But we were completely blown away – the rooms were clean and spacious and there was a care keeper Joseph (almost like a private butler). Joseph was the highlight of our stay and if you travel on the budget, book this Airbnb during your Sri Lanka 3 weeks itinerary.
Day 6-8 Hatton & the famous blue train from Kandy to Ella
Time to move on! Today on our Sri Lanka 3 weeks itinerary, we are going on a train journey on the famous blue train. The train ride from Kandy to Ella takes about 7 hours and goes through the most picturesque landscapes such as tea plantations, lush hills, and waterfalls.
That’s why we chose Hatton as a perfect place to pause our train ride.
During our stay in Hatton, we felt like we moved back in time! We observed life on a working tea estate, saw the local women peaking up tea leaves and savor the gourmet cuisine. It is the ideal setting for trekking and biking against the breath-taking backdrop of mountains, lakes, and waterfalls.
We have also visited the Dunkeld tea factory and learned everything about the process of tea production. There is so much history behind each cup of tea!
Where to stay in Hatton?
We were very lucky to be staying at Tea Trails in Lakeside Castlereagh bungalow. It’s an authentic tea planters bungalow with traditional furniture and „fell like at home“ atmosphere perched at an altitude of 1250 meters. If you enjoy nature, you will love it!
There is so much to do: kayaking, hiking, visiting a tea plantation, biking, etc. You can also visit all 5 bungalows and jump into a jacuzzi/swimming pool to enjoy the view of each one of them or have lunch/dinner/breakfast there.
We were served 3 meals a day and were completely pampered by a personal butler! During our 3 weeks trip to Sri Lanka, I was completely obsessed with papadum, local street food snack. The staff at Tea Trails arranged especially for me a fresh portion of papadum so that I can have it with every meal, which was incredibly nice of them!
Tea Trails is part of the Resplendent Ceylon “best of Sri Lanka” circuit, created by the family-owned Dilmah Tea Company. During our Sri Lanka 3 weeks itinerary we visited all Three Relais & Chateaux resorts; Tea Trails, Cape Weligama & Wild Coast Tented Lodge that form an enchanting “Route de Bonheur (Happiness)” from tea fields to clifftop beach & safari lodge. All I can say is that there is no better name for it than „route of happiness“!
Day 8-10 Ella
After 2 relaxing nights at Tea Trails, we were ready to resume our train journey and go straight to Ella. I was excited to visit Ella as I heard so many positive opinions about it. Once we got out of the station, I looked around and saw quite a few hip cafes and thought „What a nice change“. However, as I walked further down the road, I quickly realized that the whole town is full of these hip cafes and there is nothing else around. It looked like a gigantic tourist trap with prices twice or three times pumped up compared to what we saw in Kandy.
That’s enough for a rant though. Ella is still worth visiting as it’s a great base place for one-day trips to Diyaluma falls or Little Adam’s Peak. An additional must-see is the famous Nine Arch Bridge. It is one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in the country and it’s a perfect spot to take a picture of the famous blue train.
Diyaluma Falls is 220 m high and the second-highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. The cool part about it is that you can trek to the top and swim in the pools just next to the edge (it’s safe!) as well as find a bunch of smaller waterfalls on top! It’s like nature’s amusement park.
Day 11-13 Yala
One of the bucket list items for me during our Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary was going on a safari. Seeing a wild elephant was one of the main reasons I decided to visit Sri Lanka in the first place. And I wanted to stay in a glamping tent!
That’s why we stayed in Wild Coast Tented Lodge in the middle of Yala National Park and it was an absolute dream come true! First of all, if you ever heard about glamping before, then Wild Coast is like the fanciest and exciting glamping spot you could think of multiplied by 100!
The whole resort is on an ultra all-inclusive basis. Even though there is only one restaurant, there are so many delicious, gourmet options to choose from! You can also order any cocktail you fancy.
Bar, restaurant, and library, crafted from a woven grid shell bamboo structure clad are interconnected with the outside and simply walking through it, you will get on the beach.
Each tent is gorgeous! It’s spacious, has an enormous bed and copper bathtub (my new must-have!). Some tents have additionally a swimming pool or a separate tent for kids.
One game drive per night is included in the price and you can choose whether you want to go for sunset or sunrise drive. Yala has the highest density of leopards and there is a slightly higher chance to see them during the afternoon safari. As we were staying for 2 nights, we decided to do sunset safari the first evening and sunrise safari the last morning.
The great part about a safari with Wild Coast Lodge is that in the jeep there is a park ranger who explains a lot about animals and their behavior. Our park ranger was called Dom, ask for him if you visit!
The safari takes about 3 hours and during that time we saw a lot of exciting animals, such as leopards, elephants & crocodiles! Plus many exotic birds!
Day 14-15 Mirissa
Time to head to the south part of the island and enjoy some beach vacation. Our first stop was Mirissa, a lovely beach town with Coconut Tree Hill, Secret Beach, and Parrot Rock.
Day 15-17 Weligama
The next days we moved on further east to Weligama, surfer’s base. Weligama is a perfect place to learn surfing as the waves are long and slow. We had in plan to take some surfing lessons but unfortunately, Mateusz caught ear infection after snorkeling and couldn’t go inside the water for a few days. So, we used this time to fully relax in Cape Weligama resort.
Even now, once I am back when I want to relax, I just close my eyes and I imagine I am in Cape Weligama again. I always love the concept of resorts that consist of private villas. We had our villa with a swimming pool, where the bathroom was the size of my whole flat in Barcelona 😉 Just next to our private pool we had access to the private beach. We even got served floating breakfast to the pool! Yes, I know how show-off and posh it sounds but if you look for luxury then Cape Weligama is the best hotel in Weligama you could stay in.
This was a moon-shaped swimming pool (one of the two swimming pools in the resort available for all the guests):
Day 17-18 Galle + Unawatuna
If there is one location on our Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary that felt most like home (Europe) it was a Unesco World Heritage Site, Galle.
Galle was founded in the 16th century by Portuguese colonist and it is famous for its fort. It looks and feels like an old European town. I enjoyed walking around its cobblestone streets, Dutch-colonial buildings, grand mansions and impeccably restored hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, and designers. It felt like traveling in time.
Within the fort, you can also see Sri Lanka’s oldest light station.
As Galle is a small town, we combined our day there with a sunset trip to the beach of Unawatuna, where I wanted to photograph the frog rock & the famous palm tree rope swing. Hands down, sunset in Sri Lanka is the most beautiful I have seen in my life.
Where to stay in Galle?
One time more we decided to prolong our stay in Sri Lanka and therefore had to stay in 2 different hotels but from the same chain, Jetwing Hotels.
We first stayed at Jetwing Kurulubbeda, boutique luxury villas that felt like a peaceful sanctuary. Each villa had an upper and lower level and a big terrace. We stayed at the treetop level from where you could see the never-ending lush greenery of the horizon and beautiful blue hues of the swimming pool.
I can’t even explain how peaceful I felt when I stayed there. Birds singing were waking me up every day while grasshoppers were tucking me in. In the morning we were treated to a complimentary boat ride on the river, where we spotted water monitors and many exotic birds. It was a perfectly peaceful stay!
As we liked it so much, we booked our next stay at another Jetwing hotel, Jetwing Lighthouse in Galle, located just next to Jetwing Kurulubbeda. On contrary to our previous hotel, Jetwing Lighthouse is a much bigger hotel, an actual iconic landmark. Our room was spacious, stylish and overlooked the ocean. We spotted baby sea turtles on this beach so I couldn’t be happier!
Day 18-20 Bolgoda Lake
Here is something that you probably don’t see much of on Sri Lanka itineraries but it’s an experience I recommend. For a couple of nights, we stayed at Flow, the luxury houseboat that floats along the quiet and beautiful Bolgoda Lake. The houseboat docks at night in its marina where you can use all the facilities such as the swimming pool and jacuzzi.
The cruise was full of attractions –we went fishing on a traditional Sri Lankan boat, at sunrise (one of my favorite experiences during our Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary), we learn to cook during the live cooking show, we went on a jetski and nature spotting trip. One afternoon, the captain and his crew prepared a surprise picnic for us on the island!
Day 21 Colombo
We started with the Old Dutch Hospital which was located just next to our hotel. The Old Dutch Hospital is considered one of the oldest buildings in the Colombo Fort area, dating back to the Dutch colonial era (early 1600). Now it hosts modern restaurants and cafes. We stopped here to shop in my new favorite shop – Spa Ceylon Luxury Ayurveda.
After that, we walked towards Beira Lake. We were surprised by the color of the water until we read it’s due to pollution…
Next, we visited Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, a red white striped mosque visible from far and walked through the crowded street of Pettah. As that was an adventure on its own and the heat was starting to be unbearable, we decided to abort our mission to see National Museum & Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil and head back to the hotel.
Probably we would be more open to sightseeing Colombo if we put it at the beginning of our Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary but as we already saw way more beautiful locations during our 3 weeks in Sri Lanka, we cut Colombo short.
Things to take with you for your 3 weeks in Sri Lanka
How did you like my Sri Lanka itinerary for 3 weeks? Did you find it useful?
Here are some more tips on what to pack for your trip.
World Travel Adapter Kit – All in one universal multi-plug adapter. 2 USB ports 3 wall outlet extender
Power bank – Portable Charger 10000mAh High Capacity with LCD Display Dual USB Output & 3 Input
Fast-drying towel – This compact towel fits your bag perfectly. For Beach, Sport, Swim, Travel, Hiking, Yoga, Backpacking & Fitness
Water bottle – BPA Free FDA Approved Portable Reusable Leakproof Silicone Sports Travel Water Bottle for Outdoor, Gym, Hiking, Cycling with Carabiner
Bluesmart Travel Pillows for Airplanes – Comfortable & Supportive Memory Foam Neck Pillow for Flight Car Train Office, with A Portable Bag/3D Sleep Mask/Earplugs